Council takes first steps toward updating city’s Comprehensive Plan

If you have opinions about what direction the city should take in the coming years, the time for speaking up is fast approaching.

At a special meeting on October 29, the council heard that community input will be an important part of the process to update the Comprehensive Plan (CP) for the City of Maple Lake.

Dean Johnson of Resource Strategies Corporation presented the council with guidelines that will be used to update the plan, which was created in the late 1970’s. Comprehensive plans are considered ‘blueprints’ for a city and considerable changes in Maple Lake over the past several decades have turned its CP into an outdated document.

Johnson said he has already collected some data from city staff and engineers, but he stressed that there is still a long way to go. “I’ve never done a plan in less than nine months,” he said. “Twelve to 18 months is more typical and that will give us the opportunity to have the issues debated.”

And Johnson said that debate and discussion is an important part of the process.  “You’re going to get a lot of different attitudes as a part of this process,” he said, noting the differing opinions that likely exist even over the basic issue of growth vs. no growth.     “There will be a lot of give and take in this process,” Johnson said. “One of the things we preach is that we can’t create a document that pleases everyone. But if you create opportunities to get people involved, they will know in the end that this process involves compromise.”

Johnson said the CP will include:

Goals and policies as created in town meetings.

An Existing Conditions Inventory covering such things as existing land use, census data, community facilities.

New Growth Forecasts that would also identify residential land demands, discussion of orderly annexation with adjacent townships, utility expansion and park/trail needs.

Land Use Plan covering residential, commercial, industrial and public uses, central business district and highway corridor development.

Community Facilities Plan for utilities, recreation public facilities and the airport.

Environmental Protection Plan for wetlands, ground and surface water and woodlands.

Transportation Plan for roadway classification, traffic forecasts, future collector street system, the airport and railroad.

Implementation Plan that would identify ordinance amendments needed, negotiate orderly annexation agreements and identify possible future studies in areas such as parks, utilities, airport and redevelopment.

The process Johnson outlined for development of the CP would include nine steps:

1. Data assembly, review and analysis.

2. Town meeting–goal setting.

3. Goals and policy review.

4. Discussion of alternatives and preparation of draft plan.

5. Town meeting for presentation of the draft plan.

6. Preparation of the final draft plan.

7. A Public Hearing for plan adoption.

8. Potential zoning ordinance revisions.

9. A Public Hearing for ordinance adoptions.

Johnson said that neighboring townships should be invited to participate in the entire process and added that one very important element is to create relationships, not only with the townships, but between the central business district and highway areas so that uses in the various areas would complement each other.

He also emphasized that the finished CP should be looked to for guidance rather than answers. “It’s a general plan that says a little about everything, but not a lot about anything,” he said.

With the collection of data already begun, Johnson said the next step would be to set a date for a town meeting. At that meeting, residents would be asked to do things such as identify community strengths and weaknesses, growth concerns and alternatives and even create a headline about Maple Lake that they would like to read in 20 years.

Council member John Northenscold asked how to go about getting people to a town meeting and Johnson suggested putting a notice in with utility bills. “That’s a way to avoid criticism that someone wasn’t invited,” he said.

And Johnson emphasized that the meetings and the resulting plan will not have a narrow focus.  “I’ll be the first to warn all the business groups that this isn’t their plan,” he said. “This is a plan for the entire community, not a means to bail out a failing sector of the business community.”

Council member Steve Mooney stressed the importance of involving youth in the planning process and Mayor Mike Messina said a notice could be sent to the schools. Council consensus was that a town meeting should wait until after the holidays and a date will likely be set during the first two weeks of January with a request to the high school for a meeting location.

Messina also noted that he and Johnson will be attending the next Town Square meeting at noon on Wednesday, November 20, at the Maple Lake Cafe to discuss and answer questions about the CP plan process.

In other business, the council:

Heard from city engineer Phil Gravel that Spruce Avenue will most likely not be paved this year, as a result of wet conditions that have hampered road construction. He said he will meet with contractors next week to determine what improvements the road will need in preparation for winter, with blacktopping delayed until spring.   Resident Pete Mavencamp said he felt contractors were trying their best to get the road done and agreed with Gravel that paving of the road at this point might result in having to tear it up and do it over next spring. But Mavencamp asked that street approaches and driveways also be fixed up for winter and Gravel added that recycled concrete would likely be spread.  Gravel also noted that the assessment hearing for Spruce is set for November 19, with assessment costs coming in close to figures estimated in May.

In a related item, Gravel said he had reviewed the city’s street plan for the next five years and suggested it might all be done as one big project, with financing through the sale of a city bond while using street assessments as bond payments.

Heard from City Clerk Linda Hruby that the death of Senator Paul Wellstone has created ballot problems that will likely slow the counting of votes and the Nov. 5 General Elections.

The next council meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, November 7.

In attendance were council members Steve Mooney, Judith Kelly, Mike O’Loughlin, John Northenscold, Mayor Mike Messina, City Attorney Rhonda Pagel, City Clerk Linda Hruby, Deputy Clerk Lee Ann Yager and City Engineer Phil Gravel.